Dalmatian Theology

dalmatian-puppy.jpgThey don’t refer to it as such, but many Christians teach a message of Dalmatian Theology, whereby the Bible is only inspired in spots and they are inspired to spot the spots.   (Hat tip to the Baptist pastor who coined this phrase. )

Saying the Bible isn’t fully inspired by God may seem like a humble premise, but it actually makes several strong and unfounded claims. 

It implies that God couldn’t or wouldn’t deliver His word to us in a reliable way, and that despite God’s alleged failings flawed humans are able to discern which parts were inspired and which parts were not.  Are we to believe that humans are to correct for God’s alleged errors?   

Why is this a serious problem?  It is hard enough to follow the teachings of the Bible without having “Christians” pick and choose what they want to believe in.  Worse yet, they ignore some parts of scripture so they can teach that the opposite is not only acceptable but desirable.  Some may do it accidentally but others are just blatant false teachers.  They have made up their own God and their own religion.

If someone claims the Bible is only partially inspired, ask a few questions:

  • How did they come to this conclusion?
  • Do they think their favorite verses are inspired?  If so,  how do they know?  How about John 3:16?  How about “love your neighbor?”  Whenever “Judge not, lest ye be judged” is quoted, I never hear the liberal theologians insist that Jesus didn’t really say that.
  • If the Bible is only partly inspired, how can they be sure that their preferred verses aren’t the ones that are uninspired and the ones they don’t like are the “real” verses?
  • Why is it that God couldn’t inspire the original writings of forty writers, but He can inspire billions of people to properly determine which parts are right and which aren’t? 
  • If He couldn’t get Paul, Luke, Matthew, John, etc.  to record his word accurately, how can He get you to do it?
  • Why should I trust your “inspiration” over those who penned the Bible, or over my “inspiration?”

Here’s one I made up: Advanced Dalmatian Theology.  It is just like Dalmatian theology, except God is also changing spots and adding/removing spots, and, oddly enough, He is only telling theological liberals and progressives.   They use phrases such as “God is still speaking,” but they don’t mean He still speaks through his Word (that would be a true statement).  They think He is still revealing new truths to the church and changing doctrines taught in the Bible.  They may also say things like, “The Holy Spirit is moving in a new direction.”  Indeed. 

Here’s an example: A Methodist pastor named Laurie Hays Coffman did a pro-gay theology piece that made the argument that she wants to “unfurl our corporate sails to catch today’s winds as the Spirit blows afresh.”  She said she was challenged by the vision God gave to Peter in Acts 10-11 where God makes it clear that the Gospel is for the Gentiles, too, and that the Israelites’ ceremonial dietary laws are no longer in force.  Her reasoning is that in the same way that God overturned those laws that He is now overturning the prohibitions against homosexual behavior.  The problem is her poor Biblical analysis.  There are at least nine things wrong with this view:

  1. The person with the revelation was Peter, one of Jesus’ inner circle and a key leader in the early church.  It wasn’t made to you, me or someone like Ms. Coffman.  That doesn’t mean God couldn’t reveal something important like this to us, just that it is highly unlikely.
  2. The visions were clear and emphatic.  Peter was given the vision three times. 
  3. Peter was inclined to reject the meaning of the vision, whereas these Advanced Dalmatian Theologians have views on human sexuality that are virtually indistinguishable from the prevailing culture and they are glad to accept this “new revelation.”
  4. There was external validation for Peter from the Roman centurion.
  5. This lesson showed up in the Bible, not outside it.  I’m not saying miracles don’t happen outside the Bible.  It is just that things appear in the Bible for a reason.  God communicating that the ceremonial laws had been fulfilled was one of those “big deals.”
  6. This vision overturned a ceremonial law, not a moral law.  There are zero examples in the Bible of God reversing his moral laws.  In fact, the more Jesus talked the stricter the laws seemed to get, because He emphasized the spirit of the law and not just the letter (i.e., lust was akin to committing adultery, anger was akin to murder, etc.).  The dietary laws never applied to Gentiles. 
  7. The “God has changed his mind view” is primarily being “revealed” to theologically liberal Christians in the U.S. . . . the very ones who often deny the authority of his Word to begin with!  So we can’t trust the accurate transmission of the original writings but we can trust their new revelations?  I’m skeptical. 
  8. If God is revealing a change, why is it necessarily more liberal?  Why couldn’t God make his laws more stringent?  
  9. The Bible gives strong warnings not to add or take away from its teachings.

But the orthodox can fall prey to this in a more subtle way by claiming full inspiration but conveniently ignoring passages we don’t like.  Consider this passage on church leadership, where some exaggerate “not given to drunkenness” to mean no alcohol whatsoever but ignore the “must manage his own family well . . .” part.

1 Timothy 3:2-4 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.

Another example is correctly teaching about the sin of homosexual behavior while neglecting to give proper emphasis to Biblical admonitions against divorce, adultery and fornication.  We need to teach all of scripture with balance.  Grandstanding on sins that aren’t temptations to us and soft-pedaling those that are is not an attractive or Christian thing to do.   

There are plenty of reasons and resources to defend the accuracy and integrity of all of the original scriptures.  We don’t need to get sloppy and just follow the parts we like. 

I’ll close with some friendly advice: Don’t mess with God’s Word.

Deuteronomy 4:2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.

Proverbs 30:5-6 Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.

Revelation 22:18-19 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

Also see Men wrote the Bible so it must have mistakes and How many translations did your Bible go through?

40 thoughts on “Dalmatian Theology”

  1. Of course, one can also believe that the Bible is fully inspired and simply not believe that the entire thing must be taken literally. So there is an important distinction to be made between folks who do not believe in Biblical inspiration (or only partial inspiration) and those who believe it is fully inspired, yet disagree about the interpretation of various verses.

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  2. For those who believe as Alan mentioned, that the Bible is inspired – but differ on which passages should be taken literally, a good rule of thumb is to take it literally unless it specifically says otherwise. When a passage in Scripture is not to be taken literally, it will actually tell the reader such. An example can be found in Ezekiel Chapter 37, and the vision of the dry bones – after the vision is described, we are told what the vision actually represented.

    Unless told otherwise by Scripture, we should take Scripture literally.

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  3. The Word of God, all Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh, is this correct? If this is a true statement then why do most Christians not believe the Words Jesus spoke. “If thy right eye offend thee pluck it out” This is a true statement made by Jesus. Jesus was trying to convey to us the seriousness of God and the Kingdom of Heaven. But, what many have failed to grasp is the fact, that we can not do it on our own, we need God’s help, God provides for us if we ask him. If I pluck out my own eye, it is telling God I don’t need his help, I can do it myself. Instead, I pray to God, in Jesus name, to take this burden from me, God will pluck out my eye, if that what it takes to keep me from sinning. I am doing God’s will not my own.

    Scripture vs The Word of God
    Read Luke 4:5 …for that is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will I give it… Moses wanted, and lusted for the “promised land”. Abraham, Issac, Jacob and Jesus did not seek the “promised land”. on earth. The “promised land” is not of this earth. Who was The God of Moses? As Moses lifted up the serpent in the Wilderness. Jesus told you what the two greatest commandment were Matthew 22:37, and Mark 12:30, do they in any way shape or form resemble those commandments found in Ex 20:1-17. Read John 4:22 it states; “YE WORSHIP YE KNOW NOY WHAT, FOR SALVATION IS OF THE JEWS.

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  4. Are we to believe that humans are to correct for God’s alleged errors?

    i love this line in your post. i have family members who try to do this. they pick and choose what parts they want to believe and what parts they take literal or not.

    kw

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  5. Neil, I’ve read your other comments on this and agree totally. You quoted some as saying “The Holy Spirit is moving in a new direction.” I immediately think, is that north? or south? east or west? Quick, let’s get a compass. No wait, I already have one it’s called a Bible!

    Anytime the Holy Spirit decides to move in a new direction, we should check to make sure it follows the compass. If not, we’re probably misinterpreting His movements or maybe it isn’t Him that’s moving. Maybe He’s standing still and we’re moving backwards.

    DiscipleABCT said “all Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh” – Unfortunately, not all Christians believe anything, hence the damlation theology. And a lot of people who call themselves Christians simply aren’t. I wasn’t sure I understood your overall message.

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  6. Thank you Neil, I was just thinking about this topic. I am happy that you covered well. I find the parts of the bible that I don’t want to follow God shows me why they are important.

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  7. One more thing. This Sunday we studied the passage in timothy that talks of women being silent in church and not wearing gold or braiding the hair. this one is hard for me as i have big hair and even bigger earrings.

    kw

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  8. I think this criticism is a little misguided. The vast majority of theological progressives do not believe ANY of the Bible was inspired. They believe it was written by flawed men.

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  9. Good distinction, Mike. That is a different kind of flawed thinking. I am always amazed that those who think none of the Bible was inspired actually call themselves Christians. It claims to speak for God ~3,000 times and makes multiple claims that it is all his Word.

    And of course, just because flawed men can make mistakes doesn’t mean they always make mistakes.

    If these people are really followers of Christ, why do they disagree with him about the OT? He had no issues with any of it, down to the last pen stroke.

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  10. I really like these two:

    -Why is it that God couldn’t inspire the original writings of forty writers, but He can inspire billions of people to properly determine which parts are right and which aren’t?
    -If He couldn’t get Paul, Luke, Matthew, John, etc. to record his word accurately, how can He get you to do it?

    These really cut to the chase. They’ll rely, on the first one, on the argument that it speaks to each of us differently, but that is just further validating your point. How can they use Scripture to back that up, and how can they be sure that their “revelation” is accurate or real inspiration? I love this post.

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  11. Neil, I love this post! I will be sharing with folks of their “Dalmatian Theology” the next time they try to tell me they only believe in parts of the bible!

    I especially liked when you asked:

    “If the Bible is only partly inspired, how can they be sure that their preferred verses aren’t the ones that are uninspired and the ones they don’t like are the “real” verses?”

    If people would just pause and think things through, then they would realize how foolish their reasoning is concerning the scriptures.

    Sadly, most don’t and the result is plenty of Dalmatian Theologists!

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  12. “If these people are really followers of Christ, why do they disagree with him about the OT? He had no issues with any of it, down to the last pen stroke.”

    Neil, you realize that is HORRIBLY recursive. If someone believes that scripture was written by men, why would it make any difference if it makes claims about Jesus’ faith in it?

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  13. Hi Mike,

    “If someone believes that scripture was written by men, why would it make any difference if it makes claims about Jesus’ faith in it?”

    Consider this and let me know what you think.

    I think we agree that it shouldn’t make any difference to non-Christians (which is what I consider those folks).

    But if they call themselves Christians (“followers of Christ”), then ask them why. Typically they’ll refer to Jesus’ teachings. But where did they learn about those teachings? The New Testament. But one of his teachings in the New Testament was about the Old Testament (among other things).

    So they believe the parts they like and ignore the rest. Even if they think none of it was “inspired” they have decided for themselves which parts they want to believe.

    They are poster children for Dalmatian Theology, picking a few bits of what they like out of what they think some flawed men wrote about some guy from a long time ago.

    Call them what you like, but to call them Christians mocks the word, the cross and the blood of the martyrs.

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  14. “Typically they’ll refer to Jesus’ teachings. But where did they learn about those teachings? The New Testament. But one of his teachings in the New Testament was about the Old Testament (among other things).”

    I’m sorry, but there is still a disconnect there. There is quite clearing a Christian tradition that is separate from scripture. Churches have accepted creeds, practices, and traditions which are not found in scripture. Some could argue that the “teachings of Christ” are found in the history of the Church and the tradition it has created. Your argument only works if you accept the premise that the ENTIRETY of “Jesus’ teachings” are found in scripture. I believe many progressives would take issue with that.

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  15. I would love to have a progressive explain how that works. They don’t believe the NT, but they do believe the church teachings? They want to convince me they are really Christians and not just following some man-made thing?

    You are just reinforcing my point, only that if there really are people like that they are Dalmatian Theologians with very few spots.

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  16. You are familiar with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral? It is, after all, the basis of theology in the United Methodist Church. Why is it difficult to understand how a theology can be constructed with the remaining three (reason, experience, tradition) without scripture? There are certainly Protestant denominations which have removed tradition (Church of Christ, Quakers, etc.) and others who have removed reason (I’ll let you fill those in).

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  17. You are familiar with Sola Scriptura? It doesn’t mean that all truth comes from scripture, but it does trump anything outside scripture if there is a difference.

    I am familiar with the Quadrilateral, but if the reason, experience and tradition disagree with the Bible then the progressives need to explain why their view is to be believed.

    Of course someone could construct a theology from the remaining three, or from all sorts of things. The question is why would they call themselves “Christians?”

    More specifically, how do they reason about Jesus if they don’t believe the Bible? How were the traditions founded then, and what makes the foundations credible and authoritative? What experiences did they have with Jesus that we should consider?

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  18. “What experiences did they have with Jesus that we should consider?”

    Well, there are a number of denominations which believe in progressive revelation and favor experience and reason over scripture. The Quakers, for example, is one tradition that believes experience, reason, and the “movement of the spirit” are valued over scripture. A personal relationship with Jesus is another source of revelation, and authority, for a number of people.

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  19. Assuming your characterizations of their beliefs are accurate, why should we believe their experience and reason? What if one Christian disagrees with another and each claims that his “experience” with Jesus is valid?

    I know what I do: Turn to the Bible.

    Did they make up the concept of Jesus without the Bible?

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  20. A good, meaty, complicated topic. Inspiration versus interpretation. “Inspiration” is usually understood as a faith question, which is to say that one accepts the authority of Scripture because of the guidance of the Holy Spirit in faith, a position that, generally, I can accept. How that translates in to working through various passages, whether those that fall gently on our ears or those that are less, well, acceptable to our current moral or other sensibilities is a matter of some controversy, and I do not think it necessary to deal with the details beforehand.

    I guess I think the whole “Dalmatian Theology” approach is a nice rhetorical flourish, but if everyone was honest enough, I think we would all admit that there are details in scripture that we do not emphasize as much as others. These are due to our preferences, our experiences, or other factors. I do not think it necessary to apologize for this. I, for one, much prefer the idea that we take the Bible seriously rather than literally. One can do both, certainly, but my encounters on-line and elsewhere with some people leave me thinking that matters of interpretation are beside the point. While proof-texting may be an epithet that is tossed around quite easily, it is also true, in some cases.

    As for some of your specific questions, I think it quite possible to be a Christian and not accept the Divine inspiration of Scripture, or as Marshall says, that it was written by flawed human beings. Of course it was. One of the points, returned to again and again, in both testaments, is the way God uses flawed human beings to carry out the Divine work, whether it’s the murderers Moses and David (the latter being a rapist as well), the prostitute Rahab selling out her city for the safety of herself and her family, or anti-Christian persecutor Saul becoming the great apostle to the Gentiles, God uses the strangest people to carry out the work God wants done. They are flawed, sinful human beings whom even in the midst of their sin God directs to act to move forward what God wants done in and for the world. If it’s OK for them, I believe it’s OK to point out the Scriptures were, indeed, written by flawed human beings. It seems to me this has little to do with the question of authority, considering the contents therein.

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  21. Hi Geoffrey,

    Will you please clarify what you mean by “seriously rather than literally?” I tend to agree, but people use “literally” to mean different things.

    Personally, I’m a contextualist, not a literalist. Do I literally believe that the original writings ended up exactly as God wanted them to? Absolutely. Do I think we should take every passage in a wooden, literal sense? Of course not.

    Were the writers flawed humans? Of course. To say otherwise would contradict scripture.

    But whenever I’ve seen the phrase that “the Bible was written by flawed humans” it is never to back up Romans 3:23, it is to imply that scripture itself is flawed. But that is flawed reasoning itself. Just because people can make mistakes doesn’t mean they always make mistakes.

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  22. “Assuming your characterizations of their beliefs are accurate, why should we believe their experience and reason?”

    That’s the difference, isn’t it? Reason is either self-supporting, or self-refuting. If something isn’t “reasonable” it isn’t based on “reason”. Likewise, our experience can be evaluated empirically. Did the experience lead us to positive, or negative, results?

    With scripture, you either must rely on a recursive argument that scripture is authoritative because it says so or you must use outside information to either prove, or disprove, it.

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  23. Neil, I guess I would offer a counter-question. What do you mean by “flawed” in the context of the following phrase – “that scripture itself is flawed”. Are there errors of basic fact in the Bible? Well, yes, there are. Are there errors of historical fact? That is a far more difficult question to answer, and one I refuse to get in to, only because I personally believe it almost impossible to settle on, especially considering the limited amount of secondary evidence (there is a reference to a king of Israel paying homage and obeisance to an Assyrian king on a stele found in Syria, for example, which have led some to read the triumphal nature of some of the Hebrew historical writings in a different light).

    To answer you question, I guess by “seriously”, I mean that I accept the Bible as authoritative, not just for me, but for the Church. It has meaning, deep and substantive meaning, by faith through grace, for our lives. I have often pointed to the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel as a description of my own spiritual life. I include how I read the Bible in that account. I wrestle with the text. That wrestling sometimes goes on for years as I struggle with new meaning and insights, new interpretations and sometimes interpretations from others that I just don’t understand or can agree with.

    We do not read anything “literally”, so I see no reason why the words of Scripture should be taken in such a simple fashion. Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – meaning has to be wrested by main strength from the Bible. The story of Lot’s daughters, for example, or the “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” being the one unforgivable sin. In Hebrews, the writer says that a Christian who has fallen in to a life of sin (without explaining what, exactly, that means) is irreconcilable to God. These are a few of the passages that I still struggle with. It would easier to just dismiss them, but I refuse to, because I take them seriously.

    I guess that’s what I mean.

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  24. You finish with a good distinction, Geoffrey. In kind, I would say that to emphasize certain passages over others is not the same as rejecting passages one doesn’t like or finds inconvenient. For sure, as I have no desire to murder anyone any time soon, those verses having to do with that act are those I don’t empahsize for myself personally. I tend to focus on others that might reflect my own personal struggles. Yet, I still abide them all if put to it, which I guess is the same as “I take them seriously”.

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  25. That’s twice now the dog has eaten my homework!

    He-hem.

    Phyllis Trible wrote a book called “Texts of Terror”. The book examined several passages of scripture that depicted violence against women, and has been used in Christian history to condone violence against women, or were at least a precedence for such violence. She did not write the book to dismiss the Bible as misogynist claptrap. She did not write the book to dismiss the Christian faith as inherently anti-woman. She wrote the book to present the fact that there are portions of the Bible that are morally repugnant to contemporary sensibilities. How we deal with this, how we wrestle with our own “texts of terror” is part of the life of faith. We do just as much harm dismissing these texts as irrelevant to the central message of the faith as we would if we were to somehow make them central to our faith. Whether they are the texts Ms. Trible wrote about, or the ones I mentioned, or others, the Bible is a sprawling book with all sorts of material that, of necessity falls differently on our own ears than it would on those who were its original audience. How we take it ALL in – and ALL of it, not just those parts that resonate with our own preference, is part of the struggle inherent in the faith, what St. Anselm called “faith seeking understanding”.

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  26. “How we take it ALL in – and ALL of it, not just those parts that resonate with our own preference, is part of the struggle inherent in the faith, what St. Anselm called “faith seeking understanding”.”

    I completely agree with wrestling with the text and seeking a proper understanding. The point of this post was those who see something difficult and get the scissors out.

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  27. Well, obviously I don’t agree with that way of doing things. It’s intellectually and faithfully dishonest. One of the best things I ever heard said on this topic was from a feminist theologian (I know what you’re thinking, or at least I think I do, but just wait for it) who said that we cannot scrub Biblical passages and their interpretations from our history precisely because, as part of the history of interpretation, they are a part of us. We cannot get behind them, we cannot get around them, we can only look them squarely in the eye and say that, yes, indeed, they are a part of our common life.

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  28. Marshall said he has “no desire to murder anyone any time soon”.

    Would you be so kind as to inform us when this changes, so we can stay out of your way. 🙂

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  29. “Judge not lest ye be judged.” (?)
    “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”(?)

    What do you mean by that? I know what those verses mean in context, but randomly typing them here proves nothing.

    With the following I am only pointing out a “logical” weakness of your position.
    If someone claims the Bible is inspired, ask a few questions:
    ◾How did you come to this conclusion that the Bible is inspired?
    ◾If you think the Bible is inspired, how do you know?

    I can’t speak for everyone, but I examined all sorts of truth claims about the Bible. Its predictions about history (e.g., the prophecies of Daniel and more), its perfect description of human nature, the external facts pointing to Jesus’ resurrection, such as the “minimal facts” approach, and much more — http://tinyurl.com/ykzpu42

    ◾If the other religious writing are uninspired, how can one be sure that the Bible isn’t one that is not uninspired and it is not some other isn’t the “real” inspired works?

    I examine their truth claims as well. The Jews use the Old Testament, so that is covered. The Muslims use the Koran, which is demonstrably false (Islam, for example, repeatedly claims that Jesus did not die on the cross (Koran, Sura 4:157-158). Their evidence? One guy with a vision over 500 years after the fact. That is not what we base history upon, especially when scholars of the first century — whether Christians or not — agree that a real person named Jesus died on a Roman cross.). And so on.

    ◾Why is it that God couldn’t inspire the original writings of other religions, but He can inspire the writings of the Bible?

    That is a poorly worded question. No one said He couldn’t inspire other writings, we are saying He didn’t. Big difference.

    ◾If He couldn’t get other religious writers to record his word accurately, how could He have gotten Paul, Luke, Matthew, John, etc. to do it?

    If you actually read the word of God you’ll see why there are false belief systems. God is omnipotent. If He created the universe and humans He can obviously get them to write what He wants to communicate through them.

    ◾Why should I trust the Bible over those who penned the writings of other religions or over my “inspiration?”

    By examining the truth claims. So far, you have just tried to dismiss the hard work that entails by posing questions. I encourage you to read the Bible carefully and test the claims yourself.

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    1. I am George, I am asking that this post and the post of: George on January 25, 2014 at 8:23 pm that says:”Please us the next version, the version below, the corrected version, not this one, i.e., the one above.” I ask this as what it refers to has been removed.

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